The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conducted a survey in partnership with Ipsos MORI, December 2020, to understand how the workplace will change post-COVID-19. CBI Director, Eddie Curzon, explained the survey’s findings at our Reshaping the Workplace During Covid-19 conference, November 2020 [1]. 

The biggest shift in workplace practices caused by Covid-19 has been the shift to home or remote working. Eddie expanded on this: 

“There has been a complete shift in mindset in respect of remote working. As one person put it, pre-pandemic, you would tell people why you were working from home. Now, you give a reason why you are going into the office. ​For businesses with flexible working practices already in place, the pandemic “turbocharged” the move to remote working.​ Businesses with no or little remote working experience discovered how to do it and what the benefits can be.”[1] 

Eddie Curzon, CBI Director, 2020

Benefits of Remote Working 

  • Employees like being able to work flexibly 
  • Less time wasted on commuting & travelling​ 
  • Productivity levels maintained or even improved​ 
  • Can recruit from a wider geographical area 
  • Some found that remote working led to a more structured and disciplined approach to communications [1] 

Concerns Surrounding Remote Working 

  • Mental health and isolation. The social aspect of work is important and there are a risk people can fall off the radar, become isolated or start to blur home/work boundaries 
  • Worries about burnout and “virtual fatigue” 
  • With a lack of random interactions, such as ‘water cooler’ chats it can be challenging to sustain informal networks within and between teams  
  • Training and development: it is harder for less experienced staff to learn by observing/working with senior staff 
  • The ability for new joiners to build and sustain relationships  
  • The creation of a two-tier workforce 
  • Loss of workplace culture [1] 

A Hybrid Model of Working Is Seen as The Most Popular Option Beyond 2021 

The London Business Survey, November 2020 concluded that while many businesses have successfully adapted to home working, the office still remains a necessity. The survey found that a higher percentage of staff from larger organisations viewed returning to the office as important. [2] 

From the results of the survey, we can predict a big shift in the way that people look at offices and consequently a shift in the use of offices. While it is expected that big office footprints will decrease, there remains a need for office spaces to encourage collaboration, innovation and training.  

‘…evidence from the CBI’s London members, highlight that leaders see these spaces as essential for colleague training, creativity and wellbeing (particularly of younger workers)​’ [2]. 

CBI.org.uk. 2020. London Business Survey 2020 [online] [Accessed 19/04/21]

Eddie emphasised the importance of leadership when facing these challenges, and in ensuring that office spaces adapt to the workforce. Anecdotally, those who are further into their careers with more established home lives seem happier to work from home. Whereas those who are younger and earlier in their careers are missing out on the social and learning opportunities that come from office environments. Post-Covid, managers need to consider all their staff, when considering how we move forward with office spaces. Ensuring that the decision is not being entirely directed by those at the managerial level. 

Building back better 

“We have heard a lot of positivity about building back better. Businesses have been agile and creative in meeting the challenges of the pandemic. There is a need to reflect and reset, drawing on the lessons learned so that businesses can become more productive, sustainable and resilient” [1]. 

  1. Work/life balance​: Remote working is central to this.​ However, there are worries about overworking due to the blurring of home/work boundaries. Increasing flexibility for staff can be great, but it is counterproductive if workloads are also scaled up.  
  1. Diversity and inclusion​: Companies must consider how they can attract diverse talent; an inclusive recruitment process is essential. Flexible working can help drive diversity (for women in particular).  Equally, wider geographical recruitment and the opportunity to decentralise away from London due to remote working can attract a wider pool of candidates. However, consideration must be given to those who may lack access to broadband/appropriate technology. 
  1. Reducing carbon emissions​: Staff will want to see businesses helping to address the bigger threat of climate change. Less business travel and commuting will play a part in this. However, there will need to be a bigger commitment to achieving the net-zero goal. Clear and consistent government policy is key to inform businesses on how they can implement climate positive infrastructures and procurement processes.  
  1. Reskilling​: Eddie predicts a generational shift in reskilling. To address skill shortages in trade labour, there is a need for focused, targeted and localised government action. This can be done partly through apprenticeships. Furthermore, with people learning new skills there will be more opportunities for specialist teachers.  
  1. Innovation​: Businesses innovated at speed during the pandemic, these lessons will be carried forward.​ But remote working may hamper collaboration.​ Companies need to make sure they continue creating opportunities for social interaction and encourage connectivity.  
  1. Business/employee relations​: Relationships between businesses and employees are as important as ever. There are opportunities (work/life balance, diversity) and concerns (wellbeing, two-tier workforce). It will take different skill sets to manage these changes in working.​ Businesses need to be innovative and creative in fostering connections and looking after staff. 

The changes brought about by Covid-19, while unexpected, have enabled opportunities for growth and development. Organisations must make sure that they step back and consider how they can build back better. 

Sources:

[1] Curzon, E. 2020. Reshaping the Workplace During COVID-19 Conference 

[2] CBI.org.uk. 2020. London Business Survey 2020 [online] [Accessed 19/04/21]

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Understanding the CBI's London Business Survey 2020.

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